By Marijn Mado
Kosovo has for decades been “held hostage by Serbia.” Instead of saving Kosovo from this “former occupier,” the international organizations present in Kosovo rather constitute a new form of “colonial administration.” Neither peacebuilding nor peacekeeping are adequate terms to describe this international administration, since we should rather categorize UNMIK and NATO as the motors of a “peace-industry,” fostered by its employees, the “professional peace missionaries.” These missionaries flourish on imposing peace, and are therefore determined to move from conflict to conflict: from Bosnia to Kosovo to Iraq. A result of having the ambiguous international community rule Kosovo, is that “transition has become the norm,” and thus short-term stability is favored above democracy and economic prosperity in the long run.
These are some of the strong claims we encountered in our meeting with main opposition party Vetëvendosje! – a party with a strong focus on the Albanian population living in Kosovo. One of their central pillars is to denounce the current international administration, which is according to Vetëvendosje! undemocratic and impedes the economic prosperity and equality of all of Kosovar’s inhabitants, especially the Kosovar Albanians. I must admit it is persuasive to argue that as long as the grave injustices of unemployment and corruption are not addressed, violence will erupt again and again. The international organizations do indeed propel the Kosovo administration in a transitional limbo, strongly focusing on short-term stability, and only slowly moving forward in terms of justice and economic conditions. Perhaps Vetëvendosje! has a point when promoting the need for a little instability and chaos, for instance in taking firm steps against corruption, which may initially cause some chaos, but will ultimately lead to long-term stability. And, to be honest, a number of social movements have benefitted from the occasional use of violence. As the Vetëvendosje! President told us, “perpetual peace needs to be harsh in the present.” Sometimes social change simply requires violence.
Okay, it is time to wake up from this idealist dream. Non-violence may not indisputably be the best means for bringing about change, but a political party that is proud to show a movie to visitors including many violent clashes with the police is at least suspicious. And what about the forcefully tumbling over of Serbian trucks in order to impede the trade of Serbian products in Kosovo? Is this, as the President of Vetëvendosje! argued, legitimized because damaging objects rather than people is not violence? This seems hard to swallow. Also, if the tear gas prank in the parliament is justified because the policy that was voted on would be undemocratic, how do they see the Kosovar democracy functioning when they are in power? If other parties invent a policy they dislike, would the Vetëvendosje! Prime Minister activate a couple of “small” tear gas grenades to disrupt the government meeting? And this exactly gets to the problematic populist core of Vetëvendosje!: this anti-party addresses Kosovar Albanian’ grievances by poking holes in the current system, rather than elaborating on what they stand for and what they would do differently when being elected.
Take for instance the issue of minorities. The President of Vetëvendosje! made clear that he is opposed to quotas of ethnicities in the government, perceiving this identity politics to be tokenism rather than promoting ethnic equality. I asked him about the alternative, because if quotas are abandoned, what will guarantee the minority rights in Kosovo? His answer circled around some vague ideas of dialogue and that he was fine with having Serbs elected in municipalities. Again he returned to problematizing quotas, rather than providing alternatives, when he said that the idea of quotas is tricky, as it emphasizes the differences between ethnicities, rather than the similarities… Wait. Stop right there. Isn’t solely emphasizing homogeneity amounting to some form of dangerous majority rule? Are different ethnic groups really allowed other opinions in these “dialogues” than the Albanian majority? We could give Vetëvendosje! the benefit of the doubt. But I am hesitant to do so, considering that the President made one slip when he said, “We cannot talk with our enemies – I mean, political adversaries.” It may just have been an error, but it does reveal that this party is still thinking in terms of “us” and “them,” thereby associating with memories of an all too recent conflict. This type of dwelling in the past may also explain the party’s popularity, and, to be frank, I am not in a position to judge or condemn this kind of thinking. What I can say, is that I am afraid to conclude that the verbal and physical aggression, following from the ideals of Vetëvendosje!, should get everyone’s alarm bells ringing.
And why didn’t mine ring loud enough? Why did it take a full week of pondering, including many wake up calls from Erik (which initially only pushed me further in the Vetëvendosje! camp), to fully realize the danger inherent in their ideals? I suppose it has something to do with the charismatic speaker the President was, and with the fact that he quoted two great sociologists (Gellner and Weber) – me being the only sociology student on board. Perhaps it is also because I tried to listen without any bias, since the previous time we went I was highly prejudiced before even hearing them out. But this attempt at being objective was in vain, and even made me be caught off guard. However, it did provide me with a wise lesson concerning the dangers of charismatic speakers, the limits of objectivity, and confirmed that we should be ever aware of our subjective position. The only loud objective truth may be that violence as a means should (almost) never be endorsed… Or could it be that the ideals of Vetëvendosje! ring with so much truth and hope, easily transcending downright populist agendas such as those of Wilders and Trump, and generate more long-lasting stability in Kosovo than we, the ambiguous international community, would dare to dream about?